Cataract Surgery Cuts Car Crash Risk in Half

Lately when you’re driving at night, the glare from others’ car headlights seems blindingly bright. You see halos around street lights. Even in the daytime, driving seems harder. Colors are dull, it’s harder to read street signs, and sometimes you even see double images.

These changes might mean that you are developing cataracts, and it’s time for an eye exam! Cataracts are caused by the clouding of the lens of the eye. The condition causes dull, blurry vision and makes it harder to take part in normal, daily activities — and that includes driving.

The bad news is that cataracts are very common among older adults; the National Eye Institute estimates that most people will develop the condition by age 80. But the good news is that cataracts are very treatable. A simple, safe surgery can markedly improve a senior’s sight. Today, this is the most often-performed surgery in America, and that’s paying off. A study from Cardiff University showed that seniors who get the surgery improve their long-term brain health. Harvard Medical School experts even report that cataract surgery has increased life expectancy, on a par with medical advances in cardiac care!

And several studies reveal that cataract surgery lowers the risk of a car accident. In October 2019, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) reported on dramatic results from a study out of Australia. Researchers conducted driving simulator tests on seniors with cataract before and after surgery, and found that the risk of near misses and crashes declined by 48% after the procedure!

The AAO says patients should discuss the timing of cataract surgery with their ophthalmologist. The doctor can help them know when it’s time. But before older adults undergo cataract surgery, they—and their families—might wonder if it’s safe for them to drive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests consulting one of these experts:

  • A driver rehabilitation specialist can test how well you drive. This specialist also may offer training to help improve your driving skills, to keep you and others safe on the road.
  • An occupational therapist with special training can provide driving skills assessment and remediation. To find an occupational therapist, contact local hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

Can I still drive with a cataract?

If your doctor has told you that you have a cataract, there are certain things that you should know and do to remain a safe driver. The NHTSA says:

Every person’s cataract is different. In its early stages, your cataract may be so small that it does not affect your vision. You may be able to drive safely for many years if you have no other serious medical problems. However, over time the cataract may worsen and cloud more of the lens of your eye.

Driving safely if you have a cataract. You may need to plan car trips to avoid times when vision may be most affected—for example, driving west at dusk into a setting sun or during rainy conditions at night. Clean your car windshields (both inside and outside) often so vision is not reduced even further. You also should clean your automobile headlights to provide as much light as possible for night driving.

What if I can’t drive?

Giving up driving doesn’t mean giving up mobility. If you think you only need a short-term solution until you have cataract surgery, family and friends also may be happy to give you a lift. Learn about alternate transportation in your area, such as the bus or rapid transit, taxi cabs, ridesharing services or transportation provided by your senior living community.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your eye care specialist. If you have questions about your vision and driving safety, consult an expert.

Source: IlluminAge with information from the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.